Every year, the NBA hands out the Maurice Podoloff MVP award to a player. Sometimes it’s the best player in the league, sometimes it’s the best player on a particular team, and sometimes it’s the player who had the best season. No matter the reason they win it, there can only be one MVP and this year there is a bread basket full of candidates.
Last Year’s Candidates:
Last year’s MVP winner has to be on every list of MVP candidates, especially after the feats he accomplished last year. However, it’s highly unlikely Westbrook has another season like last year. He now has two all-star teammates in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony meaning his sky-high usage percentage of 41.65 will surely fall. Without the crazy usage percentage, Westbrook’s scoring numbers are likely going to decline. However, the Thunder should be a top four team, and Westbrook’s stats shouldn’t decline enough for him to be out of the MVP race.
Harden is in the same predicament as Westbrook, except Harden has never won MVP. While Westbrook has quantity, Harden has quality. George and Anthony both thrive in spot up situations, while Chris Paul has always played on ball. Just like Westbrook, Harden’s numbers are likely to decline, but not enough to take him completely out of the MVP race, especially with what’s likely a top four team in the Rockets.
Leonard is one of the few all-stars who didn’t get a new all-star teammate this offseason. Lamarcus Aldridge is still there but he’s doing much. Leonard averaged 25 points-per-game last year and that’s unlikely to drop. The Spurs are likely to be a top four team like always, which will have Leonard front and center in this year’s MVP race. The only question is whether his thigh injury will impact his candidacy as no MVP winner has missed their season opener.
The Usual Suspects:
James will probably be in the MVP conversation even after he retires, but he’s been known to treat the regular season as a warm-up lap for the playoffs. His team will also be without their starting point guard, Isaiah Thomas, for at least the first two months of the year, meaning the Cavs aren’t likely to be hot out of the gate and probably won’t have a top four record.
Durant is one of the NBA’s best players and he’s on one of the league’s best teams. However, he’s sharing his team with another former MVP, Steph Curry. And, with last year’s insane MVP race, he wasn’t even in the conversation despite being on the best team. Neither Durant nor Steph Curry averaged more than 26 points-per-game and with that unlikely to change, Durant could still be behind in MVP candidacy.
Curry has the same problem as Durant. They essentially cancel each other out due to them being on the same team. It’s a shame their greatness is being suppressed in such a way, but then again no one told them to be on the same team. The Warriors will probably be the best team in the NBA again, but there will surely be other players with more impressive stats on good teams without MVP help.
Dark Horse Candidates:
Antetokounmpo is one of the league’s rising stars averaging 22.9 points-per-game, 8.8 rebounds-per-game, and 5.4 assists-per-game last season. This year, he’s likely to improve on those numbers and have averages on par with other MVP candidates. Durant himself thinks the “Greek Freak” can one of the best players and he now has a chance to prove it. Even if he does put up MVP numbers, the question is whether the Bucks will be good enough for him to get votes. They finished last season 42-40 and they didn’t improve their team through free agency or trading.
If MVP awards were given out for the first two rounds of the playoffs, Wall would’ve been the winner. He looked the part and if he carries that performance into this year, he might be the NBA’s next MVP. The Cavs and Celtics could struggle and even decline, so the number one seed is an attainable goal for the Wizards. That combined with an MVP type season from Wall could have him hoisting the Podoloff trophy.
Asking to be traded away from a championship contender was unheard of before this summer, so Irving will have much to prove. However, Irving proving that he was better off without LeBron James would make quite the story. Irving can certainly put up the scoring numbers but he’s always been lackluster in the other categories. His impact on the game is also something that’s been questioned. However, if Irving can get the Celtics a number one seed, his name will be under heavy consideration for MVP.
It’s hard to leave last year’s runner-up off the list of the top 5 most probable MVPs for this year. However, he did so with a 34.2 usage percentage. Harden can play off-ball but that comes with increased efficiency and less shot attempts. Harden’s free throw rate was 48.7 percent, second highest in the NBA, meaning nearly half of his shot attempts ended in a free throw. Free throws accounted for 9.2 points of Harden’s 29.1 scoring average. Many of these free throw attempts came from him dribbling around and baiting defenders into fouling him. He won’t be able to do this as much now that Chris Paul is there. In addition, he shot 44 percent from the field and 34 percent from three, which are both below league average marks. These are likely to improve with less defensive focus, but free throws are a huge part of Harden’s game and his attempts along with his assists numbers are likely due to decline as his touches do.
My Top 5 Candidates:
- John Wall
From the league leader in assists to the runner-up in that department, John Wall is easily the best point guard in the East. The Wizards have a slim chance to steal the number one seed from right under the Cavs and Celtics collective nose.. Last season, Wall averaged 23.1 points and 10.3 assists but in the playoffs those numbers improved to 27.2 points and 10.3 assists. He put up MVP stats when the games mattered most and it’s plausible that some of that MVP caliber performance can carry over to this season.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo
The NBA’s most improved player, the Greek Freak, is on the rise and everyone knows it as last year he averaged 22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 5.4 assists.. With the East depleted of talent, the Bucks have a chance to go for home court advantage in this year’s playoffs. If they are able to be a top four team, even in the East, that would show they are a team on the rise and doing it behind Antetokounmpo would have the Greek Freak receiving a good amount of votes for MVP come award season.
- Russell Westbrook
Last year’s MVP has to be in the top five for voting this year.. Yes, Westbrook will have to concede touches to Paul George and Carmelo Anthony but neither of them are playmakers in the traditional sense and both of them thrive in off-ball situations. Westbrook usage percentage and shot attempts will drop, but he’s a slashing point guard and the extra spacing will boost his efficiency and the shooters should keep his assists numbers relatively steady. Back to back MVP’s are definitely possible, especially if the Thunder can establish themselves as the second best team in the league.
- Kevin Durant
Somebody from the leagues probable best team will get some MVP consideration; I think it will be Durant. Last year he averaged 35.2 points in the Finals and he took home the Finals MVP trophy. Even after that, Durant obviously still feels he has something left to prove. He’s unlikely to average a ton of points due to the Warriors ball movement centric system but its plausible Durant makes sure he averages more points so he can add more things to write in yellow on his shoes. The Warriors will likely be the best team in the NBA (AGAIN) and if Durant puts up numbers closer to his career averages he’ll be in the race.
- Kawhi Leonard
Even though the Spurs didn’t add another all-star like most teams, they’ll still more than likely be a top four team in the west. Part of this will be due to Leonard. He finished top three in MVP voting last year and in the playoffs he was outright dominant. He averaged 31.2 points-per-game against the Grizzlies and he was single handedly beating the Warriors until he went down with an injury. He’s the undisputed number one option on one of the best teams in the league. He’s become one of the best scorers in the league, so if Leonard improves his numbers again and the Spurs finish in a similar position as they did last year Kawhi Leonard will be the leagues next MVP.